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Podcast Advertiser Boot Camp, Part 2: Podcast Media Planning and Buying for Customer Acquisition


October 15, 2021


October 15, 2021

Right Side Up’s Offline team hosted a Podcast Advertiser Boot Camp at Podcast Movement Virtual in October 2020. This deep-dive course was designed for aspiring and current podcast advertisers to help them execute campaigns effectively and efficiently. In this series of articles, we’ll capture the expert insights from the boot camp and offer practical tips to get the most out of your podcast advertising campaigns. This second installment focuses on media planning and buying tactics for your podcast advertising campaign. Check out the first article in the series for insights on what to do before you start planning your campaign.

With growing popularity and desirable user demographics, podcasts have emerged as a great advertising channel for diversifying your marketing mix. If you’ve decided you’re interested in testing podcast ads, here’s what you need to know about finding your audience, choosing the right shows, and buying the right media for your campaign. 

Podcast Audiences: Who’s listening to podcasts today?

In the last few years, podcasts have gone from being embraced mostly by innovators and early adopters to a much broader audience. In this short time, podcasts have gone mainstream

41% of the US population—or about 116 million people—listen to at least one podcast each month. Among people who listen weekly, 59% listen to four or more podcasts each week.

Graph showing that 41% of the US population listens to at least one podcast a month and of those that listen once per week, 59% listen to four or more podcasts a week.

“Podcasts have really favorable demographics,” said Fred Hadra, marketing consultant at Right Side Up (RSU). “Why this space has been so attractive, particularly to direct-to-consumer disruptive brands in the space, is that the demos for podcasts skew younger and there’s a range of ways to target a very specific type of listener, as well as more blended groups, to reach really desirable customers.”

2021 podcast listener demographics showing the breakdown of people 12+ that listen to at least one podcast per month

Knowing your audience sets the baseline for your planning efforts. And while there isn’t a standardized third-party rating system for podcasts (like there is for TV, radio, and digital), marketers can rely, in part, on industry and publisher-side demographics data, self-reported stats from shows, to get an idea of who’s listening. Right Side Up consultants also use and have access to our Performance Indexing Tool (PIT) when planning. PIT indexes performance across advertisers and allows us to identify shows that may be a fit based on their performance for comps (comparable advertisers).

Your existing audience should influence your planning, but keep an open mind

How do you know who your intended audience should be? 

“It’s always a great idea to bring as much information into the planning process as you possibly can,” Hadra said. “You want to take a deep look at everything you know about your existing customer profiles and data from your other acquisition channels.”

Hadra noted that although customer insights from your other acquisition methods might not align perfectly with podcasts, it’s a great starting point for determining how to put together a media mix for that audience.

And while your audience should influence your planning choices, don’t let it be your only guiding star. Pay attention to the wider context of where potential customers could hear about your business. And remember to balance where you think your audience is listening with all of the unexpected opportunities of where you might find them across the podcast landscape. Because the channel is nascent relative to many others, there are often media opportunities available at competitive rates that may allow you to test into a show and reach an audience that would otherwise be too broad or cost prohibitive. 

As Hadra pointed out, business leaders and entrepreneurs don’t just listen to content directly related to their professional work. They could also be into comedy, history, sports, and more. 

When Can You Expect to See Podcast Ad Campaign Results?

Podcast advertising campaigns typically deliver results on a much longer timeline than most other marketing channels due to the consumption delayed, on-demand nature of the media itself. Because it takes time to see what works, it’s critically important to set clear, realistic expectations with your internal team and leadership. 

Results will vary based on your testing budget, number of shows, length of campaign, show choice, and creative content. According to industry standards, most first-time advertisers can expect to see 100% payback in the first flight from about 20–30% of initial test shows. At RSU, we aim for, and often see, average renewal rates exceeding 40%. This shows us solid channel fit and high likelihood that iterative testing will bring CPA down to goal. If you’re renewing 50% or more of shows from your initial test, it’s an excellent indicator the channel has potential for rapid scale, and can support larger iterative testing budgets. 

Budget ranges for podcast ad campaign tests.

“It’s important to remember here that the key word is test,” Ryan Smith, marketing consultant at RSU said. “You want to make sure that you can gain significant learnings. It needs to be worth your time. During the test period we want to know what’s working, what isn’t, and what needs additional testing. In order to do that successfully, there needs to be a healthy test budget.”

How Much Does Podcast Advertising Cost?

Getting meaningful results from your test requires upfront investment. We view $75,000 over a 7-10 week period as the minimum to see a viable result in the channel—a true positive with direction for scale or a definitive negative. Anything lower than that will yield unreliable results that won't answer the question of whether or not the channel has potential to be an evergreen customer acquisition vehicle. As you spend more, you’re able to get on more shows and dive deeper across more genres to see a clearer picture of what’s working and what isn’t working.

We often work with clients that have podcast advertising costs up to and exceeding seven figures on a monthly basis. But you don’t necessarily need to dive into six-digit spending during the testing phase. In general, your podcast advertising budget should be proportional to your existing customer acquisition budget; if your overall customer acquisition budget is $200,000/month, a $75K test is appropriate and proportional; if your overall budget is $2 million/month, that level of spend is insufficient and will likely result in a false negative or positive result. Budget should also be dictated by inventory availability. If you are looking at a budget range for planning of $125,000-175,000, and there’s only $155,000 of inventory that makes sense/is ideal to buy, that should be your number.

Media Planning in Today’s Podcast Landscape

Once you have a handle on your target audience and set expectations internally, you’re ready to dive into media planning. Many marketers stumble during the media planning phase in this channel. To put together a great podcast plan, you’ll need to search in different places to get what you need to make decisions. 

“Podcast advertising can be a little bit opaque to get into,” Smith said. “You can start with some of the ‘common sense’ ways to research shows, like using Google. If you have a particular genre of podcast in mind that you think is going to line up with the type of customer you’re trying to reach, using search can be a great starting point for getting some names of shows that you might want to reach out to.”

There are also helpful research tools available, like Magellan AI, which compiles advertising data from over 30,000 shows. And don’t underestimate the usefulness of publisher insights, like the Apple podcast “Listeners Also Subscribed to” feature.

Screenshot of suggested podcast shows based on what other listeners subscribed to.

You’ll also likely need to work with networks, representation firms, and independent sales reps to learn more about your options. This can be tricky if you’re starting from scratch and trying to figure out how to separate great options from good or not-so-hot. Once you're connected with a network or publisher, they can be partners in showing just what options are out there. 

“Building relationships is crucial in this industry—with networks, representatives for publishers and networks, as well as independent shows or collectives of shows,” Smith said. “The difficult thing about that is there’s not really a central resource for that.”

Despite the research difficulties and more manual planning efforts, putting together a robust plan is do-able. You just have to approach it differently than other channels. 

Stay focused while building your consideration set

There are seemingly endless ways to formally and informally research shows. But keep your focus on finding the right fit for you. Sorting through the more than one million active podcasts can lead to hours down rabbit holes and dead ends. 

“Don’t get sidetracked,” Smith said. “It’s easy to get into information overload or analysis paralysis. A lot of what’s going to pop up on Google really may not actually be helpful to you.”

Screenshot of Google search results showing top 10 comedy podcasts.

When conducting your research, you should view all sources through a critical lens and remember:

  • Google doesn’t always show the most useful information; top ranking results could be sponsored or the result of good SEO and not necessarily the best content
  • Your pod playlists (or your friends’ playlists) don’t always feature the best options for direct-response marketing or your other specific objectives
  • Salespeople are commission-based, so you may need to take their suggestions with a grain of salt; happily, in spite of their structure, many partners are invaluable sources of information and media planning inspiration
  • Apple podcast charts or other publisher-side rankers show the most popular podcasts, but popularity often comes with a bigger price tag and more broad market/mainstream audience

As you’re doing research, develop a list of possible shows for your campaign, which is this channel’s version of a media consideration set. We recommend casting a wider net and starting with more shows than you need. It’s easier to narrow your list as you go through the planning process than realize that you don’t have what you’re looking for. 

Even if you think you have plenty of shows on your list, add more. Try adding some that you’re curious about, whether they’re small yet promising shows you feel good about, or huge shows that might be worth the investment.

“Let your curiosity take over here,” Smith said. “There may be a show that you think might work but you’re not sure. Put it on the list, and learn more about it through the RFP process. Don’t be afraid, there’s no obligation to buy any of the media you request proposals for”

Ask the right questions in your RFP and you’ll get the right answers

Once you know which shows are on your list, the next step is to create an effective RFP. A good RFP will help you collect the information needed to make a final decision about which shows are the best fit for your podcast advertising campaign. Do yourself a favor by developing a standardized RFP template and process so you get comparable data for each show.

Your RFP should capture:

  • Network/publisher
  • Show name
  • Downloads per episode within a 30–45 day window
  • Make sure you indicate you’re looking for IAB compliant downloads
  • CPM
  • Pricing
  • Spot type
  • Spot length

Try to strike a balance between being particular about your parameters and requesting specific shows, with also being open to a range of possible show recommendations. 

Final show selection for your podcast ad campaign

After you’ve received responses in the form of media proposals, it’s time to collect, sort, and narrow your data set. Cut your list down based on selection criteria like budget (overall and show cost) and availability (date, ideal flighting, etc.), and genres. Pay attention to a show’s CPM, if it’s not ideal you can find room for negotiation, but if it’s 2–3x as high as you’re willing to pay for that inventory you can likely remove that show from consideration

If you end up with several solid options, rank and sort them based on genre/category and price to sift out the best shows. Consider that outside factors may take shows off your final list. A show may get booked faster than you’re able to make a decision, decide that your brand isn’t a good fit, etc. It’s best to earmark a little over your intended budget to account for any loss of show selections during the booking process. 

Smith said, “Finally, you’ve made your choices. Next, review and ask yourself the big question, ‘Do I have the ingredients to bake a successful test cake?’”

Publisher Negotiations: Put your money where your plan is

With most of your media planning checked off the list, your next moves are to negotiate the placements and outline your insertion orders, including terms and conditions. Right Side Up has developed many proprietary templates for our work with clients, and our advertisers use customized, pre-negotiated terms based on 4A’s/IAB v3.0, with heavy tailoring and significant additions to make them podcast advertising and growth-marketing appropriate. 

When negotiating in this stage, remember that you’re working with other partners, not against them. 

“I don’t really like the term negotiation,” Smith said. “It sounds intimidating when it doesn’t need to be. I remind myself constantly that these are negotiations with publishers that we have strong relationships with; I treat them more like conversations.” 

Ad inventory in the channel is also limited, and there is high demand for the mid-roll placements that direct response advertisers favor, so price movement may not be as much as you’re used to from a channel like digital display, where there is an infinite amount of inventory. 

Smith encourages all advertisers to converse, not confront. Negotiating things like test rates, frequency, and KPIs as part of a conversation rather than a battle will often help you get a great deal while establishing yourself as a good partner, and it sets you up for a better conversation around optimization if the inventory doesn’t work. If you negotiate too hard on pricing, there may be little incentive for a publisher to continue to offer discounted inventory or bonus as they can potentially sell that inventory for more to other advertisers. 

And speaking of deals, if you do see a good one, grab it. There are many opportunities in the podcast world to score big—but you need to know it when you see it.

Even though you and your partners (hopefully) have the best intentions, you must clearly define the relationship and campaign terms in clear, comprehensive writing in the form of a contract, most often called an Insertion Order. 

  • Structure the document so it clearly outlines all media placements and pricing
  • Make sure terms and conditions are comprehensive and specific to podcasting; we, at RSU, have heavily modified the 4A’s/IAB v3.0 T&Cs with 18 different supplemental clauses and counting
  • Have a standardized signing process and save copies of all agreements

By now, we’ve covered pre-planning, media planning, and media buying for your podcast advertising campaign. But we’re not done yet! Stay tuned for more articles in this series that cover creative production and pre-launch, and campaign analysis, measurement, and attribution.

Need help with media planning or media buying for podcast campaigns? Get in touch with RSU at hello@rightsideup.co and our experts will help you learn how to use offline marketing for your business and scale podcast advertising successfully.

Krystina Rubino joined Right Side Up to start its offline marketing practice when she realized too many brands leave offline channels on the table, favoring digital channels past diminishing returns. She has been obsessed with all forms of media for as long as she can remember; she’s an agency and marketing leader with deep experience in building brands and meeting growth goals, for companies of all stages and sizes. She’s spent her career helping companies and brands like Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft, and StitchFix, develop profitable digital and offline media campaigns, often as vanguards in their category and the medium. Her favorite question to ask is “What’s next?” when helping grow a business or scale a customer acquisition campaign.

Lindsay Piper Shaw is a director of offline marketing at Right Side Up, where she partners with innovative brands on in-house marketing initiatives, including podcast and other offline channels. Prior to joining Right Side Up, Lindsay scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft, and Texture, and she has also worked with McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur-Sealy, among others. She is passionate about the podcast space as a growth driver, and especially loves educating newcomers in the channel. In her free time she listens to podcasts and makes a podcast called Murder We Wrote (she really can’t get enough podcasts).

Fred is a Growth Marketing Consultant for Right Side Up. He has worked in the podcasting world since 2015, and prior to that in various broadcast, digital, direct marketing and fundraising roles, spanning both the for-and non-profit sectors. Current and past clients include Function of Beauty, Sun Basket, and Stitch Fix, and his experience includes the planning and execution of multi-million dollar deals with some of the largest broadcast media channels in the country.

Ryan Smith is a Senior Offline Marketing Consultant. He is performance marketing focused with 12+ years of media and marketing experience. He specializes in working with consumer brands to discover, test, and scale profitable acquisition channels. Podcast and Influencer Marketing have become a main area of expertise over the last 6 years and he has helped introduce many brands to the space, some of which are: Away, BarkBox, eero, Native and RXBAR.

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Let's talk growth

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